What is Gerson Therapy?

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When the news broke that health and wellbeing blogger Jess Ainscough died of cancer, many of us were left wondering what Gerson Therapy is, and sadly, if her death could have been prevented.

The former online editor of Dolly magazine and self-appointed “Wellness Warrior” first learned she had a rare form of cancer, epithelioid sarcoma, at the age of 22. Doctor’s told Ainscough that her best chance of survival would be to amputate her arm at the shoulder.

She initially tried chemotherapy, but after a year in remission the tumours returned. Doctor’s again advised that amputation was one her best option. The operation would have significantly increased her chance of 10-year survival. Without treatment the life expectancy in 35 percent of patients with epithelioid sarcoma is five years.

RELATED: Jess Ainscough has passed away, aged 30

It was then that Jess started researching alternatives. She spent 10 days at the Gawler Foundation in Melbourne. An alternative therapies clinic founded by Dr Ian Gawler, who claims to have cured his secondary bone cancer for over 30 years. A claim which has been refuted by medical professionals and his ex-wife Grace Gawler, who say it was more likely that he was suffering from tuberculosis, not cancer at the time. 

”A lot of people take hope from my story,” an unrepentant Gawler told Fairfax Media. ”By using me as the vehicle for airing their concerns is to overlook the point that I have been a source of hope and inspiration for many, many people for 30 years.”


Dr Gawler was a figure that Jess looked up to. It was her time at the Gawler Foundation, which ultimately led her to Gerson Therapy.

“The way I saw it I had two choices: I could rely on the slash, poison and burn method offered to me by the medical profession and become stuck in the ‘cancer patient’ category, or I could take responsibility for my illness and bring my body to optimum health so that it can heal itself,” Ainscough wrote in opinion piece in 2010.

“For me it was an easy decision. Chemotherapy and radiation do not have great success on the type of cancer I have, and I’m not going to let them cut my arm off.”

RELATED: This is what it’s like to have cancer when you’re 24

“According to the late Dr Max Gerson, if you can stick to the strict regime for a minimum of two years, Gerson Therapy has the ability to cure cancer like no drug can. Alternative treatments like Gawler and Gerson offer patients hope, choice and understanding. They also offer them a cure, not just remission. To me, that sounds like the much more attractive option.”

The basis of Gerson Therapy is a natural treatment that “activates the body’s ability to heal itself” through an organic, plant-based diet, raw juices, coffee enemas and natural supplements.

A typical daily diet for a Gerson patient on the full therapy consists of 13 glasses of fresh, raw carrot/apple and green-leaf juices, three full plant-based meals, and organic fresh fruit and vegetables to snack on.


In theory, Gerson Therapy – developed by German-American physician called Max Gerson – uses “intensive detoxification to eliminate wastes, regenerate the liver, reactivate the immune system and restore the body’s essential defences”. By following the diet, it claims that the body can regenerate, become healthy, and be cured of cancer and most chronic, degenerative and future diseases.

Before Gerson’s death in 1959, he published a book in which he claimed to have cured 50 terminal cancer patients: A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases.

Except the National Cancer Institute evaluated Gerson's claims and concluded that his data showed no benefit from his treatment. The American Cancer Society has also labelled the therapy as both ineffective and dangerous. It's also illegal to market the therapy, which is quite often described as quackery or woo, in the United States.

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Perhaps even more tragically for the Ainscough family is that Jessica’s mother, Sharon, also put her faith in Gerson Therapy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer one year after Jess had started her alternative therapy.

Here’s what Ainscough wrote when her mother was first diagnosed:

"My family has been pretty much consumed by this disease for almost four years, so when my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in April this year we knew exactly how to deal with it. Following her diagnosis, my mum refused any sort of conventional interference. She said no to a mammogram and a biopsy, told them that she wasn’t interested in going down the path of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and instead chose the same therapy as me."


After a two-and-a-half year battle (the median survival rate for untreated breast cancer is 2.7 years) Sharon Ainscough died. At the time Jessica wrote on her blog:

“As many of you know, my mum had breast cancer for the past few years. She was diagnosed about a year after I started Gerson Therapy, and seeing how much the therapy helped me, she went straight on it herself. However, unlike my journey, Mum’s was fraught with complications. She had been doing well and seemed to make it through her obstacles, however a few months ago it became clear that the cancer was getting ahead of her. She was in pain, lost a lot of weight, lost all energy, and her health quickly deteriorated. We explored lots of options however Mum choose to see out the final months of her life in a way that was exactly right for her.”

In her last blog post Jess distressingly described herself as being “frightened and cracked open in ways I never had before”. The post has now been taken down, and the only page published on her website reads: "On February 26th 2015, the world lost one of its brightest sparks. After 30 years, seven of which were spent thriving with cancer, Jess Ainscough peacefully passed away."